MOSCOW (Agencies): The COVID-19 pandemic remains dynamic as new variants like EG.5, FL.1.5.1, and BA.2.86 arise. Understanding their prevalence and potential impact is vital in our ongoing efforts to stay safe. In response to these evolving strains, experts have stressed the importance of vigilance and preventive measures to protect public health.
SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19, is perpetually in a state of flux, amassing mutations within its genetic makeup as time elapses. Fresh strains of SARS-CoV-2 are predicted to keep surfacing.
A few will come and go, whereas others will appear and uphold their propagation, possibly displacing former versions, as documented by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Coronavirus hasn’t been wiped out for good, but thanks to vaccinations and improved social management, it has diminished, as reported by various media outlets.
In the 28 days ending August 3, according to the latest World Health Organization report, over a million new COVID-19 cases were reported globally, along with more than 3,100 deaths. This raises the death toll to nearly 7 million since the pandemic’s inception.
Public health agencies are monitoring the proliferation of three fresh COVID-19 mutations in the United States. Rates of COVID-19 hospital admittances and fatalities remain well below those reported last summer, as well as during winter surges of the virus, but they have exhibited a consistent upward trend over the last several weeks, US media outlets have noted.
A few novel subvariants have attracted the worldwide attention of public health authorities: EG.5, colloquially known as “Eris”; FL.1.5.1, unofficially labeled “Fornax”; and BA.2.86, also known as “Pirola.” However, the EG.5 variant has established itself as the predominant strain in countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom.
Sputnik offers insights into what is known about these COVID-19 strains so far.
- What is the “Eris” Coronavirus Variant?
EG.5 represents a mutation of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, originating from the XBB or Gryphon lineage, which can be traced back to the Omicron variant. In its most recent assessment, the World Health Organization classified EG.5, encompassing the EG.5.1 subvariant, as a noteworthy viral strain warranting surveillance by countries. Although EG.5 could contribute to rising case numbers, the WHO emphasized that it presents a minor public health threat compared to other Omicron offshoots, as there is no indication of it causing critical health conditions.
- What is the “Fornax” COVID-19 Strain?
FL.1.5.1 is a derivative of the XBB variant lineage, and it possesses a mutation, F456L, with EG.5, which appears to be enhancing its transmission capabilities compared to other virus variants.
- What is the “Pirola” Coronavirus Variant?
“Pirola,” also known as BA.2.86, was first detected in late July and has caused a limited number of infections globally. An expert mentioned that it has its roots in the omicron BA.2 sub-group, which led to significant virus outbreaks in early 2022. As per the CDC, BA.2.86 presents more than 35 genetic variations compared to the Omicron XBB.1.5 subvariants, which held sway for most of 2023 and will be the primary focus of new COVID boosters this autumn.
- What is the XBB COVID Variant?
Among the rapidly spreading Omicron variants right now, XBB comprises BQ.1.1, BQ.1, BQ.1.3, and BA.2.3.20, states Dr. Thomas Russo, M.D., Professor and the chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo in New York. According to a preliminary study published by researchers in China, XBB can evade the antibody defenses against these recently emerged COVID variants.
- How Widespread are the New COVID-19 Variants?
Based on the calculations of the CDC COVID Data Tracker, EG.5 contributed to 20.6 percent of the COVID-19 cases in the US in August 2023 (between August 5 and August 19), exceeding the prevalence of any other single SARS-CoV-2 variant.
In that particular week, a variant named FL 1.5.1 (or Fornax) was reportedly spreading rapidly in the US and, making up 13.3 percent of cases, claimed the second spot, while a blend of other XBB mutations and offspring of Omicron trailed behind in varying percentage scores as follows: XBB.1.16 (10.7), XBB.2.3 (10.6), XBB.1.16.6 (8.0), XBB.1.16.1 (5.9), XBB (5.1), XBB.1.5 (4.7), XBB.1.9.1 (4.1), XBB.1.5.70 (2.4), etc.
The global virus repository GISAID has recorded 9 cases of BA.2.86 across five countries: the US (2), Israel (1), Denmark (3), the United Kingdom (1), and South Africa (2).
The CDC also cites the National Wastewater Surveillance System (NWSS) findings on the initial monitoring of US wastewater indicated the presence of the BA.2.86 hCoV-19 variant. Current research efforts aim to ascertain if BA.2.86 could represent a more substantial concern than other variants, although experts maintain that there’s no immediate cause for alarm.
Across the planet, EG.5 and XBB.1.16 are the most prevalent among reported COVID-19 strains, comprising 21 percent of sequences worldwide, as per the WHO’s data.
- What are the Symptoms Associated with New COVID Strains?
Since the emergence of EG.5 and FL.1.5.1, officials have had a tendency to downplay claims of drastic symptom changes associated with these closely related new variants when contrasted with their near counterparts within the Omicron variant from earlier pandemic phases.
In terms of BA.2.86, health officials in Denmark and the United Kingdom caution that it’s too early to conclude whether this variant will trigger more severe illness, as the handled cases closely resemble those of hCOV-19 patients.
As outlined by the CDC, the predominant symptoms of coronavirus remain:
- Fever or chills
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Muscle or body aches
- New loss of taste or smell
- Sore throat
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
- How Can People Stay Safe from hCoV-19 this Winter?
Dr. Scott Roberts, a Yale Medicine infectious diseases specialist, advocates for the continued importance of taking precautionary health measures, especially for those with increased risk of severe illness due to factors like aging (50 and above), chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), dealing with underlying medical conditions such as obesity, or having a weakened immune system.
- What to Do If You Develop Coronavirus Symptoms
The CDC has prepared a list of recommendations to assist with the management of hCOV-19 symptoms at home:
- Stay indoors except for essential medical care.
- Keep a close watch on your symptoms. If they worsen, promptly contact your healthcare provider.
- Ensure you get sufficient rest and maintain proper hydration.
- If you have a medical appointment scheduled, contact your healthcare provider in advance and notify them of your COVID-19 status or potential exposure.
- In the event of a medical emergency, dial 911 and inform the dispatch personnel about your COVID-19 status.
- Use a tissue or your inner elbow to cover coughs and sneezes.
- Regularly wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or disinfect your hands with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing a minimum of 60 percent alcohol.
- Isolate yourself in a specific room away from other individuals in your residence as much as possible. If available, use a separate bathroom. If you need to interact with others indoors or outdoors, wear a mask.
- Avoid sharing personal items like utensils, towels, and bedding with other members of your household.
- Thoroughly clean frequently-touched surfaces such as countertops, tabletops, and doorknobs using household disinfectant sprays or wipes following the provided instructions.
- Is COVID-19 Still a Threat?
According to the WHO, the coronavirus continuously presents a substantial danger despite the formal end of the international public health emergency on May 5, 2023. The multilateral organization conveyed that numerous areas observed drops in the incidence of sickness and mortality linked to COVID-19. However, countries including Australia, Brazil, New Zealand, and South Korea had the highest recorded cases in the previous month. The agency pointed out that limited testing and reporting to the WHO make data monitoring difficult.